Lifeboat to Mars is a free online game created by PBS Kids Go that takes the user on a simulated journey of the ecosystem allowing for an interactive experience while learning about biology and science. The game is intended for grades 5-8 and predominately used in a classroom setting with a teacher section and lesson guides; although, it is just as easily accessible to children to do on their own. In regards to the technology requirements, it is a flash game played in-browser. The game aims to not only teach about ecosystems but to encourage critical thinking, creativity, and self-motivation all while working towards digital creation.
In the game, the user is considered a lifeboat trainee who is guided by the Onboard Robot Trainee who helps instruct and teach about organisms, plants, and ecosystems. The game is split into tutorials and missions and then further divided into Microworld and Ecoland. In Microworld, the user guides microbes through mazes and receives tokens for completing each step. While in Ecoland, the user
must learn to balance the ecosystem on their own by finding a way to sustain the population. And while on the lifeboat, the games center around the user taking missions to Mars in order to restore the population following an explosion. Chad Sansing provides an excellent review on graphite.org (a site of common sense media) stating that it is an excellent tool for learning the basics of ecosystems that provides clear missions and fun rewards in a fast paced world that is compelling. Of note, the movements can sometimes feel jerky. Also important, some of the levels can be quite challenging and require the user to practice and explore before they will be able to complete them. Furthermore, Common sense media acknowledges that it there is a very insignificant use of violence as seen when predators eat their prey as well as some acknowledgment of reproduction, but the user never sees any mating.
Ultimately, this online game is highly recommended as a learning tool and fun game for children. It would be an excellent supplementary tool for educating students on ecosystems as well as simply opening the doors to a different and more interactive way to learn. The user must begin to think critically and infer lessons from the behaviors and actions of the organisms they encounter as well as make decisions based on their experiences in this online world. Moreover, while sometimes guided by the robot, the user is mostly on his or her own to explore an unknown world and self direct the game.
Reviewed by Kelsey Frey